The Covid-19 Pandemic has pushed many of us to start our own businesses, for some a side hustle and for others, an easy way to supplement financial uncertainties caused by the current circumstances. In the Philippines, a great deal of online food start-ups have managed to thrive and were able to expand themselves into physical shops and ongoing franchises, but sadly half of the total number has remained just a “start” with no visible end in mind.
I have been planning to write an entire article about starting a business in general and entitle it “How To Start A Business From Your Own Home: A Step By Step Guide”. However, I have decided to focus on Food Business and tackle about the expanse of food industry, as majority of the inquiries I get specifically targets this trade. I have been in the Food Business since 2010 particularly in the pastry industry, starting from a small stall in a Food Bazaar in Ortigas. I was one of the young entrepreneurs who braved the waters of starting a business without any idea of what comes next. As a young chef straight out of college and culinary school, I had numerous fresh ideas. But the thing about this industry, your fresh idea will only remain “fresh” for at least a number of days. Soon, you will find better prototypes of your own idea from a different brand or worse, you will find someone using the same recipe you found on Google or YouTube, selling the same products as yours and your ideas just ends there. NOW YOU’RE STUCK…
HERE’S A FACT. Food Business is very easy and inexpensive to mock-up. Think of a recipe, buy the ingredients, and whip it up in the convenience of your own home kitchen, effortless, right? Send samples to friends and family, ask friends to like your online pages, easy market. But the clear question is… How long will it last? Is the business sustainable?
After my food bazaar stint, I have founded a start-up called The Royal Chimney Cakes and Pastries and what started as a passionate hobby, eventually became a lucrative source of income for me. From a mere online shop, selling cupcakes and crepes, I was able to expand into an actual Pastry Shop Café with a physical store. I was able to cater for a bigger market, targeting events like weddings, birthdays, debuts, and corporate functions. It was going well… but it wasn’t good enough to thrive. A lot of pastry shops offered the same services, targeted the same market, and even copied some of my originals. I guess, my “original” can only remain original once it is patented. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ORIGINAL IN THE FOOD BUSINESS. People can easily copy your recipe, add salt and sugar, and the recipe is theirs. No issues, whatsoever. It didn’t just happen to me and my shop. It is a vicious cycle in the industry that you should be aware of. Even bigger establishments deal with the same dilemma. Remember the Facebook or Instagram Ad you saw the last time saying they were the “first-ever- this-and-that-best-product”? Chances are… THEY ARE NOT.
A good example of this is the “Chocolate Dream Cake” in a metal canister trend two years ago. It became so popular that a lot of home-bakers decided to create their own version of it and sell it online. The same thing happened to “Custaroons“, because they became a craze, it was very easy to re-make them. Until, the original makers decided to patent their products. No one is allowed to use the names “Dream Cake” and “Custaroons” legally. Good choice, but not effective. People still make the same things, just in a different name, and a better version. Even if the product is virtually identical in the market, by just a mere change of one ingredient, people can claim it’s theirs. And unfortunately, potential customers tend to buy the cheaper version and not the original.
For this, I was done. I closed down my physical shop, but it doesn’t mean I was giving up. I still had one of my trusted bakers working from her own kitchen, delivering under my brand. The Royal Chimney was still there while I was away. It was waiting for an upgrade. I was not ready to close it down totally. I treated it as my baby, and my baby has to grow healthy.
I wanted to compete, and to be able to compete in this vast sea of like-minded entrepreneurs, I had to equip myself. Now, I am happy to write this article to be able to share to you what I learned from my mistakes. I hope I can help make things a little easier and less stressful for you by sharing my knowledge and experiences as you go through the birth-pains of starting a business. After two years in pastry and business school, I have now started my new business version 2.0 Sunday’s Cheesecakes. I still keep The Royal Chimney as one of my flagship brands, as I already have a good number of returning customers there. I didn’t want to put that to waste. Re-introducing it as a smaller brand, focusing only to a few number of products was helpful for its growth.
While I start anew, imagine I am talking to you casually in a coffee shop (given this quarantine situation) and sharing my tips from everything I have learned from running my first ever stall business, failing to keep it afloat, trying again, online selling, managing my business pages, until now running a physical store.
What I want you to understand is that the Food Business is never glamorous. It is not for the faint-hearted. It will always be gruesome and toxic. You will find yourself in many sleepless nights. You might even become depressed of the pressure and ask yourself “Why did I even start doing this?”
Success is not an overnight process. It takes a lot of faith, hard work, patience, money, and consistent dedication. As a business owner, it is even worse than just working as an employee in the food industry. That’s if, you find yourself pushing through with your start-up business. I wrote an article about the difference of running a business and being an employee in the food industry, which can shed you some light. Read: When You Want To Enjoy The Holidays But You’re A Pastry Chef. Even if you have zero intention of committing to growing your food business, you might find some of these tips useful in your other endeavors.
However, with great passion and love for what you do… You will always find success in every little way possible. I can’t believe I just wrote a 9-paragraph Intro. I will not advise you to do the obvious things for your business like creating a proper and catchy business name for starters, taking good-looking photos of your products, or making yourself visible online. Pretty much, you have already done that. What I’m about to share to you is an entrepreneur’s view points and what you have to be aware of when starting a business. Let’s get you started with game-face on and the proper business mindset.
START WITH THE END IN MIND: BUSINESS PLANNING 101
A SOLID BUSINESS PLAN. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This is often overlooked by a new business owner, thinking that it’s very easy to sell online these days. “I’ll bake, I’ll cook, I’ll make these and that” and sell it online, not knowing what’s next. I was a victim of this mindset when I started my stall in the food bazaar. Here’s a background story.
I asked the bazaar organizer what was not in their bazaar. She said no one was selling crepes, so in an instant, I bought equipment to make crepes. I was the only one selling crepes that time, and I managed to pull it off for about two years with 3 stalls in different locations, operating in three different time slots. I was able to expand really fast from the sales I generated out of them. My bazaar stall operated from night time until wee hours of the following day. My two other stalls catered for corporate food courts, thus they follow office hours.
Sounds impressive, but guess what? It failed. Why? With no business plan and three stalls after, I didn’t know what to do next. I just got tired and sick of doing it, my staff were all dazed, and I had too many tasks on hand. I had to do marketing, I had to do my inventory, I had to organize my clients and contacts lists, and the duties just did not end there. It just kept on piling up as the business expanded. I had zero work-life balance. I was just exhausted. I didn’t know if I really wanted it and I got too overwhelmed with making it big. Do not make the same mistake as I did. Otherwise, you’ll end up sick, drained, broke, and completely confused.
WHAT DO YOU ENVISION? What is your niche? What are you planning to put on the menu? What are the possible products you might consider adding in the future? Business Plans can be very taxing to work on, but this is a very essential part of running a business. I learned it the hard way. What is in a business plan anyway that you have to spend time working on it? You can easily get access to business plan templates on Google, BUT in many instances it is not what you need. There are multiple types of business plans, but the important part is that it meets your requirements. A proper business plan entails THE FOUNDATION of your business down to your EXIT PLAN.
Sounds like a pessimistic piece of paper, right? We haven’t even started, why EXIT? This enables you to know what your next step would be, in case your business doesn’t run as smoothly as you expect. How do you deal with loss? Do you plan to sell your brand to a bigger and more established company? Do you plan to downsize it? In case the business triples its value, do you plan to expand to a bigger market or franchise your business? What are you investing on? Are you spending more than what you can handle? Who are your target market? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your business? What are the opportunities for you and possible outside threats?
Treat the business plan as if it is your skills assessment. What are your mission, vision, short-term and long-term goals? What can you offer to your market? How will you source out your finances? Where will you put your profits? What are your modes of payment? How do you establish your ordering system? Are you open for reselling? How do you handle resellers? In situations like a pandemic, how will you handle your cash-flow? What is your logistics plan? What is your marketing strategy? What are the papers, permits, licenses involved in starting your business? How much budget should you allot for paper works?
Your business plan should be able to answer all of these questions. If in time, while running the business and you experience a hiccup, go back to your business plan and check what needs to be adjusted. It’s not just a piece of paper. IT LITERALLY GUIDES YOU HOW YOU RUN YOUR BUSINESS.
RESEARCH: KNOW YOUR COMPETITORS AND YOUR MARKET
I am a very aggressive entrepreneur. My business partners know this well. If your pastry shop is visible online, most often than not, I have already scrutinized what you are selling. Sometimes, I even buy products from my competitors to know the quality of what I’m dealing with. If you have what I have on the menu, I will stalk you for a bit and research your market. Do we share the same market? If yes, then I have to come up with a better strategy to position my brand ahead of yours. Real Talk, No Bullsh*t.
When I was younger, I wanted to be able to offer what others cannot offer. Let’s use my crepe stalls as an example once again. When I asked the bazaar organizer what was not in the bazaar, I wanted to be the sole seller that offers what’s not there. I wanted to have what others did not have. Selling crepes, because others cannot simply make them. It requires skills and equipment. However, my success in the crepe-business did not last long. Even if I was the only one selling it, not a lot of people patronized it. I studied the foot-traffic of the bazaar. It caters to call-center agents working on the graveyard shift. The bazaar had shuttles in call-center offices to drive in traffic.
What was wrong with my business? Why do people not buy it? The answer was simple. I was competing with the wrong competitors and I was selling in the wrong market. The call-center agents were looking for something they could have for “dinner”. A rice meal, a complete package that is very convenient for them to have on a short period of their “break time”. Crepes are associated with dessert. They simply did not have time for dessert. My usual customers were trend-seekers, or families on a weekend shopping, and they were not constant bazaar goers. You will find them in high-end malls, ordering crepes while sipping on a cup of fancy tea. That was where I should be. I realized this when it was already too late. I have spent a lot already expanding my crepe business. It’s a very amateur mistake.
Nowadays, the competition begins with who gets the most likes on their online pages. Back in the days, who gets the longer queues wins the deal. Let me tell you this. If you are obsessed after Facebook Page likes and Instagram followers, then you are on the wrong business mindset. Getting exposure is very substantial, but the more important question is… Are they your market? Do they actually buy your products? Or are they just there for page likes?
REMEMBER: 4,000 “LIKERS” is never equal to 4,000 buyers. In this day and age, the number of followers and “likers” define your place in the industry and tells about your success. Though it can be a very efficient marketing tool, you may or may not be able to find your potential regular clients online.
Which leads me to the next important factor…
EFFECTIVE MARKETING AND BRANDING
I get it. Most of us did not major in Marketing. If you have no idea about Marketing at all, then it’s time to learn and educate yourself. Before the social media era, I had to resort to making x-deals with magazines, TV ads, and newspapers and handing out a lot of flyer print-outs. Those are the conventional methods you can still use, but here’s something I would like you to absorb.
WHAT IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE MARKETING TOOL?
Here’s a saying I go by every time I find myself in the middle of a marketing lag. FOCUS ON THE QUALITY OF YOUR PRODUCTS, AND THE CUSTOMERS WILL LOOK FOR YOU. Not the other way around, you looking for customers. Let your products work for you and speak for itself. Quality versus Quantity. I would rather have five returning and regular clients, than ten clients who bought mediocrity with no chances of coming back. If you are after profitability through influencing customers, nothing is as powerful as word of mouth. It is a very compelling factor when making purchasing decisions, both in the internet world and outside of it. Remember, not everyone is on the Internet all the time.
Most people trust recommendations from their friends and their families when making a purchase. Thus, customer retention and recommendation is very important when building your brand. Make a good quality product and ask your customers for their experience. I would like you to take this “secret formula to success” by heart.
Excellent Products + Superb Customer Service = Regular Returning Clients (also known as ROI, Return on Investments)
Do not focus on your Page Likes. You can start a campaign like “Feedback Fridays” or “Leave a Reco” or a star system. Get people talking about your products. Customer interaction is key.
ONLINE PLATFORMS AND DIGITAL MARKETING
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I am pretty sure you found this article through one of my Social Media pages. Yey, me! My online pages work and they have reached you. Though I am telling you that the best marketing tool is word of mouth, entrepreneurs like us would have to adapt to the modern world. You might have the greatest products and ideas in the world, but if no one knows about it, your start-up business might end up struggling. INVEST ON MARKETING. But do not just focus on increasing your followers. Make your online visibility EFFECTIVE. I am sorry if you are not tech-savvy, I myself is not a tech guru, but do not fret. Most Social Media platforms are easy to navigate. If you have an Instagram Account or a Facebook Page, you might as well maximize it.
Browse around your pages and behold what it can do for you and your business. I would like to write these things in bullet form to make this easier for you.
- Make a social media ad and target it to the right market (given you have already researched everything about your target market).
- Set-up an instant reply tool to make it easier for you to get back to inquiries. This enables you to screen your potential buyers or simple inquirers. Most buyers make their transactions privately, thus sending you a private message and asking details about their orders. They will go after you if they are really interested with your products.
- Set a budget for marketing ads.
- Share your business ads to target groups.
- Upload appealing photos, write a persuasive introduction, and boost them.
- Create a business account on Instagram which allows you to post the same contents directly on your Facebook Pages. (You won’t have to post your contents twice. Connect your Instagram Account to your Facebook or Twitter Business Pages.)
- Build a website and create a community out of it. This allows your return clients to create more buzz about your products and services that you offer.
Like what I have said. It is very easy to navigate around Social Media Platforms. But if you feel like these things are too demanding for you to do, you can always seek help from professionals. Nothing is wrong with working with the right people, who practically knows the ins and outs of Digital Marketing. Anvorte Corp. is a good example of Web Developers who can help you with this kind of Marketing Strategy. Their services often come with free consultations. I know, because this website is a productive result of what they can offer. 🙂
BRAND COLORS AND AESTHETICS
Your brand name and the materials you use to present yourself matters! Do not create a logo for the sake of just changing your boring business profile photo on Social Media. Believe me. The value of your business often starts with a very effective logo. The colors you use, your shapes, your features, your boxes, your stickers, your packaging, it all adds up to a complete customer experience. Every single detail of your branding has an impact on how your clients gauge your value. Your branding tells what sets you apart from your competition. On all occasions, customers notice these kind of details and it can MAKE or BREAK your sales.
Be consistent with your branding. If you choose certain colors for your brand, stick to it. If you want a rustic approach, show it on your ads. Show it on your packaging. If you market yourself as a dainty high-end brand, then walk the talk. Apply it on every little detail of your product.
ASSESS YOUR SKILL SET AND BUSINESS CAPABILITY
DO NOT BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW. I cannot reiterate this enough. Attempting to do something more than you can handle is business suicide. Learn from my mistake. I have expanded my crepe business without any background and knowledge in managing a business. I thought I was in control, but it ended up as a failure.
Also, never promise anything to your customers without any idea and capability of accomplishing them. This will not only build strong doubt, but it can stain your credibility and integrity towards your clientele. “We will cross the bridge when we get there”, is a very bold quote (and a stupid one). We often say yes and dive to new opportunities without having a concrete plan. Always ask yourself, is it good for the long run? In reality, most new entrepreneurs decide to build a business with a certain goal… that is to make profits. But making profits is not attainable in a quick snap of a finger. Trying to do big things all at once to make profits will not only overwhelm you, but it will also make your business bleed into its slow death.
How do you know if your business is doing more than it can handle? Read this article 4 Signs That Your Business Has Bitten Off More Than It Can Chew.
My advice is, take it slowly and surely. Take baby steps and absorb each process through constant learning. Do not try to be jack-of-all-trades, understand that not everyone is your market. You are not everyone’s cup of tea. Focus on establishing a steady customer base before you expand your market and reach out to a bigger audience.
SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Today’s Social Media feeds will always be a reminder of what we can and cannot achieve. Do not let that limit you! While being friends with a lot of people, may or may not be able to drive traffic to your business, I would like to talk about your inner circle. Most often than not, the people we choose to hang out with and the people we choose to be a part of our circle has a great impact on our decision making, the way we perceive, and how we react to things.
The same goes with how we run our business. As we constantly strive to make it to success, some people tend to pull us down and distract us from attaining our full potential. “Crab-mentality” is quite pervasive when you decide to build a business. Do not let this stop you from achieving what you have envisioned. Seek for people who have the same goals as yours. According to Forbes, “Highly successful people are generally willing to share what it really takes to make things happen. They have the ability to help you learn from the mistakes they’ve made along the way and the “tricks and tips” to help you reach your goals faster. Seek out leaders of your field and get some real face time with them.” Look for a mentor, someone who has already clearly achieved their goals. Learn from their experiences and let them be your inspiration.
While being successful in business requires a lot of hard work (and sleepless nights), having the right people around greatly affects our mindset. Surround yourself with positive people, the goal-oriented, the visionaries, the hard workers, the learners. Seeing other people’s desire for success will keep you motivated to reach your goals. Surround yourself with people who will push you to become a better version of yourself. This will reflect on how you handle things while you run your start-up.
Also, do not be afraid to approach professionals. In building a business, you’re going to need some help to launch your start-up. You will need accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, web developers, designers, and of course your whole set of staff to complete your team. Even if you’re doing this business by yourself from your own home, I am pretty sure there is someone who is willing to support you all the way and lift you up when you feel discouraged. Your life path and mindset may change according to the connections you settle with. So choose your people wisely!
Now that I have shared to you how I got myself started, it’s time to put it to test. These tips and factors may not be everything, but it can serve as a guide on how you will equip yourself. Do not be afraid to test the waters. I was once asked in a convention where I was a guest speaker for entrepreneurship, what would be my noteworthy advice for the new entrepreneurs who would like to venture and compete? My answer… You greatest competitor is yourself. Strive to be better a version from Day 0 until present. Furthermore, BE BRAVE. TAKE RISKS. NOTHING CAN EVER SUBSTITUTE EXPERIENCE.
I would like you to expect the unexpected. Do not get discouraged if things do not run smoothly. You will face A LOT of setbacks. You will make mistakes and you will have to face tough decision-making. Sometimes, you will make wrong decisions, but that is OK. It’s part of it. You have to learn from your own mistakes for you to be able to handle what lies ahead. Just make sure your business goal is genuine. Make sure everything is legit, from registering your business name down to paying your taxes. As long as you’re doing it the right way, you will be just fine! Do not wait for the perfect timing, there’s no such thing. Sometimes, you just have to go for it! Life is too short to wonder what could have been. 🙂
BEST OF LUCK! I PRAY FOR YOUR SUCCESS! MAY WE ALL BE ABLE TO BOUNCE BACK TOGETHER!
DO YOU PLAN TO RUN A START-UP?
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR THE ENTREPRENEURS OF THE FUTURE?
DID YOU EXPERIENCE PROBLEMS WHILE RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
HOW DID YOU SOLVE THEM? WOULD YOU LIKE TO ASK OR SHARE ANYTHING?
I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!